Say What You Believe   2 comments

You really want to believe in Christ, but it’s going to affect your career, your marriage, your standing in the community. So isn’t it enough to accept Christ in your heart and keep it to yourself? I was asked this question not long ago and the inquirer made a good point. What if someone accepts Christ then dies before they have time to confess their salvation?

Hmmm?

I’ve often accepted as a given that someone could accept Christ on their death bed and be accepted into Heaven, but what if that person were not able to speak and therefore unable to confess their salvation? Okay, now I’m stumped and I will confess that I remain stumped on that portion of the question. My only answer is that God knows what was in that person’s heart and He is the ultimate arbitrator of who gets to enter His kingdom. I don’t know the answer, but I’m convinced that God not only knows the answer, but that Jesus Christ is the Answer, so I don’t really need to know. I think it’s narcissistic of us to believe we have to understand God totally. No, we don’t. He’s God, we’re humans. We’re like ants to Him. We will never fully understand Him and that should be fine with us.

Corinthians tells Christians to judge their fellow believers, so I’m turning from metaphysical questions to the more pragmatic part of the question. Can a person believe in Jesus Christ, but not confess that belief before men and still consider himself saved.

At the risk that you won’t read the rest of this post … NO!

Romans 10:9-10 says “because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation.”

There are those who try to explain away the meaning of these words and there are those who adhere to them like barnacles to a boat hull, but what is really the answer beyond dogmatism.

First, someone will note that Paul puts confession before belief in verse 9. That’s because (in verse 9) he’s quoting Moses’ words from Deuteronomy 30:14 and that’s how Moses wrote it. In verse 10, Paul’s own words and instructions appear — believe and then confess, which is really the only chronology that makes sense.

The word “confess” here is homologeo the same as used in 1 John 1:9 and means to “say the same thing about something as others have said”. Early Christians risked their lives by saying “Jesus is Lord”. First, the Jews tried to kill them for blasphemy and then the Romans tried to kill them because Caesar was “lord” in their society. So the simple statement “Jesus is Lord” was the most common confession that Christians of the 1st century made and it carried a great deal of importance.

In verse 9, Paul directly states that believing and confessing are both essential for salvation. In verse 10, while believing and confessing are now set apart into two separate clauses, confession is still declared to result in salvation. Confession (homologeo) in this context cannot be as easily explained as that which takes place in the heart as a private act before God as some might hope. The term “mouth” implies an oral confession. God does not need one to “confess with the mouth” for his benefit. He can see into the heart to discern our faith, and grant us justification at the very moment of faith.

Yet the vast majority of NT passages mention faith as the only condition for eternal life. What is more, the Gospel of John, written for the precise purpose of clarifying the condition for receiving eternal life (20:30-31), nowhere states that our eternal destiny is determined by “confessing with the mouth.” In fact, John wrote the very opposite—that one can trust Christ for eternal life (and actually receive it), but fail to confess the Lord publicly. He wrote, “Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess [homologeo„] Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue…” (12:42). John knew of those who did not openly identify with Christ for fear of persecution and rejection, yet they had come to faith that brings eternal life.

To find Paul’s meaning in Romans 10:9-10, we need to investigate the book itself more deeply. In Romans, it is undeniable that Paul’s favorite term for redemption is the heavily theological word, “justification” (dikaiosune). For Paul justification is a legal or forensic term referring to the imputed righteousness the believer receives at the moment of faith. Paul discussed justification in great detail in 3:21–5:11, climaxing his treatise with a discussion of a few of its marvelous blessings (5:1-11). Paul’s thorough treatment of justification was been completed in Romans long before he arrived at the Romans 10:9-10 argument.

In the 3:21–5:11 passage, Paul made absolutely no mention of “confessing Jesus as Lord” in order to receive justification. In these early passages, the apostle repeatedly stressed the need for faith alone, just as the Reformers later discovered. It seems rather strange that in chapter 10 Paul would add to justification by faith the need for “confession” —a concept he completely excluded in the early chapters of his epistle. In fact, Paul never mentioned confession as a requirement for justification in any of his other epistles.

Practically speaking and theologically accurate, justification means “to be declared as righteous as Christ is righteous.” If you’re as righteous as Christ, what more is needed for eternal life? The answer should be evident: nothing more is needed to get to heaven than to be justified in the sight of God (Romans 3:20; 4:2). This is why Paul combined the two concepts in his phrase, “justification of life” in 5:18. For Paul and his epistle to the Romans, there is nothing more needed to get to heaven than to be justified by faith in Christ alone. But nothing in Romans 10:9-10 contradicts this. Romans 10:10a reads, “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified…” (italics added, NIV). In chapter 10, Paul is in perfect harmony with his own teaching in the other parts of his epistle.

It’s important to note that Paul is discussing Judaism just prior to this verse and is, in fact, quoting Deuteronomy 30 in verses 6-8, demonstrating that Israel should have listened to the exhortation of Scripture that pointed her to the need for divine help issuing from faith. Romans 10:9-10 is in reality a further interpretation of the truth Paul finds in Deut 30:12-14, namely that the righteousness that comes from faith is available to all, and so is the divine help (salvation) that can follow justification. Deuteronomy 30:11-14 reads,

For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious [difficult, NASV, NIV] for you, nor is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?” But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.

The context of the Deuteronomy passage is the speech Moses gave to Israel as they were about to enter the land of Canaan. Moses warned the people against rebellion and predicted that in their disobedience they would be scattered far beyond their own borders and relocated in many nations as a result of God’s judgment of them. But one day (at the Second Coming of Christ) God would bring them back to Himself, circumcise their hearts to be fully devoted to Him (the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31), restore them from their captivity, and bring them into the land to possess it (30:1-11). Nevertheless, Israel at the present time should not complain that God’s revelation was so difficult it could not be obeyed or so unclear that more revelation was needed before it could be believed. They must not think that someone should go up to heaven or cross to the other side of the sea to bring back divine truth and make the people able to obey it. Revealed truth was not distant, but as close as faith in the heart. That which was not revealed belonged to God alone, but what was revealed was given to be believed and obeyed. Divine help was also right at hand. If Israel would only turn to their Lord for help He would assist them in obedience. This help was as near as calling on the Lord, invoking His help with their mouth. In Paul’s interpretation of Deuteronomy, Christ is God’s present revealed truth given to all people in the gospel. Justification through faith in the heart and divine help for obedience to Christ (sanctification) are readily available to all, not just the Jew. Gentiles too can believe in the Lord Jesus and call on Him for help of all kinds. After all, Christ is rich to all that call on Him for deliverance. But first, one must believe in Him before he can call on Him.

One should observe that three times, once in each verse of Deut 30:12-14, the passage adds that Israel must “do” the requirements of the revealed will of God in the law. Paul does not include this phrase in his citation of Deuteronomy 30 but this must be in his thinking. Otherwise, Paul has taken an OT passage that distinctly speaks of obedience to the law and finds in it a principle of faith alone, apart from obedience to the law. This would involve a gross aberration of the original context of Deuteronomy 30. What Paul finds in Deuteronomy 30 is that faith for justification is the supreme prerequisite of calling on the name of the Lord and must precede any confession with the mouth. Calling on the name of the Lord can be done only by one who has first experienced the righteousness that comes from faith (10:6). So faith is the first and foremost response to God’s revealed truth. Therefore, Paul can also summarize both faith in the heart and confession with the mouth with the phrase, “the word [Greek, rhe ma] of faith which we preach” (10:8).

The “word is near” in the sense that when the listener expresses faith in Christ in his heart, Christ will draw near in giving him righteousness (i.e., justification). Once a person is justified before God, Christ can also be near to him for deliverance when she publicly confesses He is Lord and calls on His name. This is the meaning of the phrase, “The word is near you, in your mouth.” The author of Deuteronomy has led the way to this impression with the only other reference in the Book to the nearness of God: “For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him?” (italics added; Deut 4:7, NASB).

For many Christians Romans 10:9-10 is a favorite series of verses for evangelism. Generally, these verses are cited in order to emphasize the need for faith. You can’t get a requirement for public confession from the verses. The Greek doesn’t support it. However, the practical lesson of this passage is that publicly identifying with Christ has a cleansing and sanctifying effect on our lives. If nothing else, openly confessing Christ makes the Christian conscious of his lifestyle. He now knows that non-Christians will quickly respond to his inconsistencies and compromises with, ‘I thought you said you were a Christian?” Inevitably, the vocal Christian becomes careful to live a godly life because he or she never wants a non-Christian friend to confront him with hypocrisy. The world is certainly watching Christians. But it is watching Christians who can be identified as such. I can be a secret Christian, but I can never be a victorious, secret Christian. One vital principle for victorious Christian living is the public, vocal, regular identification with the Lordship of Jesus.

2 responses to “Say What You Believe

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  1. Well said. There is a need to publicly identify yourself as a Christian, especially in today’s world. I’m not as well read on the Bible as you are, but I am of the belief that we are saved by God’s grace alone.

    My view: Our behavior can be an attempt to live our lives as Jesus tells us, but the act of being saved is not something I can do. It is by grace alone. I’m not saying that abdicates my responsibility for beieving, confessing, or acting as a Christian–but more that it’s not a vending machine–insert confession, out pops salvation, which is what I see on televangelist shows. And sadly, what low information people see as “Christian” when they attempt to criticize Christians.

    So actually, I am agreeing with you, but suggesting that there’s more to the equation. Or maybe less.

    Have you listened to Franciscan monk Richard Rohr’s lectures on Paul? He states up front that his objective is to make us fall in love with Paul. And he does, or did with me anyway.

    –I found your blog via Rio Norte Line and your great comments there. God Bless!

    Like

    • Thank you for your comment. I think we’re in agreement. I don’t think you can be a Christian and not have anyone know it. On the other hand, tent-maker missionaries in Saudi Arabia have to live their faith at a whisper. I have always taken Romans 10:9-10 to mean that we must confess our faith aloud, but when I started digging into it, I discovered that the Greek doesn’t support that as strongly as most people assume. Salvation does not come from the act of speaking our faith. It comes from our accepting Jesus’ act of dying on the cross. Faith will always bear visible fruit, but it’s best not to get too dogmatic about what variety of fruit it will bear.

      I liked your vending machine analogy. Very descriptive of televangelism pitches.

      Like

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